The David Nicholls novel One Day always had the perfect template for a series adaptation, following the protagonists, Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley, over a two-decade journey, together and apart. However, long before Netflix picked it up for a series, it was made into a tepid film instead. The film adaptation of the novel lacked heart as it rushed through events that happened to our protagonists over a span of twenty years.
The Netflix series, starring Ambika Mod and Leo Woodall, is a more nuanced and emotionally resonant adaptation than the Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess film. With well-acted performances, tremendous chemistry between the leads, and the textbook will-they-won’t-they narrative, One Day is the perfect antidote for those seeking a heartfelt and genuine romantic experience on their screens this Valentine’s season.
Spanning 14 episodes, One Day also answers the call for lengthier rom-coms in an era dominated by shorter streaming content. It is the kind of story that is meant to be taken in only a few episodes at a time.
One Day plunges headfirst into the timeless theme of almost lovers and missed connections as we first meet Emma and Dexter in 1988 on their graduation night. Thus begins a story of love that will flit through the moonlit seas of Greece to the sun-soaked towers of Italy as aspiring writer Emma and accidental celebrity Dex grow up, apart and then closer than ever before. But agonisingly enough, for audiences as well as the lead duo, the first few episodes are spent focusing on their friendship instead of their romantic relationship.
Compared to the 2011 film adaptation, this series covers more ground from the novel and introduces a more diverse cast. Ambika Mod’s interpretation of the lead role injects a freshness that renders any comparisons to Hathaway’s portrayal irrelevant. She perhaps has one of the most emotive faces in Netflix’s entire original library.
It might take a moment to forget Woodall’s White Lotus character—where he plays not-nephew to Tom Hollander’s well-dressed scammer Quentin. However, in One Day, Woodall manages to transcend the initial perception of a shallow heartthrob, injecting complexity into the character with as much ease as his shirt buttons fly open in almost every scene. Mod and Woodall’s on-screen chemistry becomes the show’s beating heart, making the unfolding love story all the more compelling.
Essie Davis of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries fame gives a heartrending performance as Dex’s cancer-stricken mother, Alison Mayhew, as Blackadder alumni Tim McInnerny plays her doting husband, Stephen.
Even beyond the romance of people and places, One Day adeptly explores the nostalgia of the 1990s and early ’00s, the ennui of ambition and inertia of finding purpose as a young adult, as well as class divides, offering a well-crafted portrayal of societal distinctions between the British north and south.
While the cinematography offers visual delight, an excess of musical interludes may slightly detract from the overall experience. The show decidedly focuses on Emma and Dex, with a hoard of new characters introduced in almost every episode. But none feel out of place or character. Amber Grappy’s Tilly, Emma’s college friend and roommate, and Jonny Weldon as Ian, Emma’s partner, are two of the standouts on the show as they bring authenticity to their brief yet significant characters.
The heated moments between Mod and Woodall will keep you feeling hot and bothered, making One Day a perfect watch for the Valentine’s season. However, a word of caution: Have your tissues ready for this. It is no simple story of meet-cutes and forever love. One Day is also a bonafide tear-jerker that can make you sigh heavily as it navigates the harrowing corridors of parental loss, addiction, and the many griefs of an unpredictable life.
You can watch One Day on Netflix as it starts streaming on February 8th, 2024.